Rhonda Holy Bear is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She was born in South Dakota, at Old Cheyenne River Agency, known as “Chief Martin Charger’s Camp.” Rhonda was raised by her grandparents, DeSmet and Angeline (Soft) Holy Bear. Rhonda’s earliest dolls were a hammer and a clothespin and scraps of cloth she found around the house.
At 14, she moved to Chicago to live with an aunt. Rhonda wanted to sing. She wanted to be on television and on the radio. She enrolled in a school that had strong arts and cultural history programs. She found herself drawn to the traditional, hands-on skills of beading and sculpting.
When Rhonda was 18, she picked up a book and discovered a picture of an antique Indian doll from the late 1800’s. She remembered the story her Grandmother had told her, and was inspired to create a doll at that very moment.
She held onto them until 1982, when she saw an ad in The Chicago Sun Times for a new art gallery called American West.
The gallery owner asked Rhonda to bring her dolls to the gallery to show his wife, who was a doll collector. The two dolls sold immediately. The gallery owners requested that Rhonda bring in more dolls for display. An ad in American Indian Art Magazine, helped introduce Rhonda’s dolls to the world.
Over the next 20 years, Rhonda’s work has been exhibited and collected by many galleries.
With every doll Rhonda asks herself deeper and deeper questions about her subject. The dolls have evolved far beyond being children’s playthings. They represent her family and the roots of her tribal history. They have helped her to complete a circle in her journey as a Lakota.
Rhonda recalls a vivid dream she had when her Grandmother passed away. In the dream, a voice told her that, with her Grandmother’s passing, Rhonda’s back had been shattered. “Those are your relatives,” the voice said, referring to the shattered pieces of her back. “You’ll have to find a way to put them back together again.”
Rhonda says, “My dolls represent my relatives, past, present, and future. Without them, I could not be who I am today. My ancestors and their stories are connected like each vertebrae of my spine. I carry their story with me in my back. It’s a strong place to be. ”Mitakuye Oyasin”